Tuesday, June 22, 2010

This is London

I was three years old the first time I was in London.

I have two memories of this trip that I'm certain are my own. One of them is very vague. It's of my mom holding me and pointing at a big clock (Ben) and me going, "That's it?". The other is of a very shy me whispering in my mom's ear that I want french fries, while a waitress hovers by our table. My mom tells me I can order from the waitress myself, but that I should ask for chips. "But I don't want chips," I say, "I want french fries."

There are other memories of that trip that are not my own, stories that have been told time and time again, so often that I've created images and feelings to go with them. One of these is of the three of us, my mom, my brother, and me, just having arrived on a plane from the US, sitting on the tube together, one kid on each side of mom, holding onto her and taking in this strange new place. My brother, then an avid PBS viewer, also at night when the British BBC would come on the channel, looks around for a while at this and that, the people around us, then turns to my mother, and goes, "Mom, does EVERYBODY here work at the BBC?", figuring that talking the Queen's English was something you learned on the job.

Oh, children can be so sweet when they haven't got a clue.

[Pasteis de nata: more on this below!]

The second time I was in London was two years ago on a long stopover in the middle of a somewhat crazy 9 day trip around western Europe, the itinerary planned by yours truly with very little leeway, during which things, inevitibly, went wrong. My friend and I basically had 7 hours in London as the result of some very faulty American Airlines customer service representitives. (More things went wrong later on that trip.) We arrived in London heavy-eyed and jet-lagged, ready to take in what we could of the city in a few hours. We wandered around for a while, met up with a friend of mine who lives in London, and upon interacting with someone who had slept in a bed the night before, very quickly realized that none of the sentences leaving my mouth made very much sense. This is known to happen when sleep and I are kept apart. The impulses entering my system during those few hours were pretty cluttered.

The third time I was in London was this weekend!

The fourth time I will be in London will be in September, when I move there to start a master's degree. Having only muddled memories of the city, I was psyched that my friend Lisa, who's living and working in London now, invited me for a weekend to take a look around.

Lisa and I spent it playing with her friends, having drinks and food, just wandering around and taking in the city. It has a big city feel like NYC, but to me, it seems less frantic. Obviously it's a European city, and the history and culture gives it its own feel. I think the fact that London's millions, unlike NYC's, aren't all trying to squish onto one single 12x2 mile island has a little something to do with it as well.

On Sunday, I met up with another friend of mine, Samanta, who took me to see what she called "the best of London": Sunday markets! Overwhelmingly wonderfully huge markets at Spitalfields and Brick Lane! There were clothes, hats, prints, purses, and so so much more, all artsy, supertrendy and cheap. So many cute dresses! I wanted all the dresses!

The best part, though, was the food! (So many exclamation points! So excited!) Row upon row of vendors selling FANTASTIC food, all of the world's cuisines represented. Crepes, handrolls, empanadas, eggrolls, it all looked sublime. We got this mouthwatering Morrocan Tagine with lamb meatballs, carrots, tomatoes etc. over couscous, a Spanish tomato salad, these japanese tofu/stickyrice/edamame/carrot/salmon muchies, and hands-down, my new favorite: Pasteis de Nata, a Brazilian pastry which is a kind of cinnamon egg custard in puff pastry. More please!

Finishing up our meal, we wandered out into Brick Lane, where people had set up make-shift markets of their own. Samanta told me girls come there to sell their overflowing wardrobes. Wandering on, we stumbled into another mini-food market: so many cupcakes and treats! Sampling those will have to wait for another Sunday come fall, though: we were stuffed.

This is what I loved about this trip, I spent it with good friends who knew their way around, and I knew I'd be back. So falling in love with the vibe of the city without getting a chance to actually know it wasn't cause for heartbreak, but rather a sweet taste of what's to come. Yes, I think London and I will be very happy together.


Jane Marie said...

Okay, wanna hear something freaky? I was actually planning on making pasteis de nata this week!!

Just recently I decided to try something new from a random chosen country every time I feel like baking. Last week I made the famous Dobos torta from Hungary. The cake was unfortunately not too pleasing to the eye, but it tasted wonderful!

This week it's Portugal! Want to come over and eat lots and lots of pasteis de nata??

Natalya said...

Ummm, YES!!!! Very much YES!